Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s essay on the history of military intervention and its non-interventionist critics includes an interesting discussion of Richard Cobden and John Bright, who were the leading British opponents of the Crimean War:
Within a matter of years, this had ceased to be an abstract question: the Crimean War against Russia, ostensibly fought out of disinterested loyalty to Turkey, was the test case for Manchester noninterventionism. Cobden so despaired of this foolish and needless conflict that he retreated into silence once the guns began to fire. Bright did not. In opposition to the war, he delivered what have been called the greatest speeches ever heard in a parliamentary assembly.
Wheatcroft quotes from Bright’s speech, and this one sentence particularly deserves to be cited again:
It is not my duty to make this country the knight-errant of the human race, and to take upon herself the protection of the thousand millions of human beings who have been permitted by the Creator of all things to people this planet.
While they appear only very briefly in his The Crimean War, Orlando Figes pays some attention to the depressingly familiar treatment meted out to Cobden and Bright during the war:
Palmerston became so popular, and his foreign policy became so closely linked to the defence of ‘British values’ in the public mind, that anyone who tried to halt the drift to war was likely to be vilified by the patriotic press. That was the fate of the pacifists, the radical free-traders Richard Cobden and John Bright, whose refusal to see Russia as a threat to British interests (which in their view were better served by trading with Russia) led to the press denouncing them as ‘pro-Russian’ and therefore ‘un-English’. (p. 149)
As Anatol Lieven wrote earlier this year, Charles Kupchan identified the pro-war hysteria in Britain leading up to the Crimean War as a classic example of how democratic politics could lead to unnecessary war:
Thus in the 1850s, the rise of democratic politics and the mass media in Britain, by bringing chauvinist pressure to bear on foreign policy, helped destroy what had been for the previous four decades a somewhat competitive but peacefully managed relationship between Britain and Russia.